🔼 Being Responsive to Change

I’ve been writing this blog for over ten years and I never know where I will find inspiration. It might be a trip to Paris with college friends, a statue of a dog in Wilmington, North Carolina, or a client mentioning a new idea like “wabi sabi”. This past week, I opened an Honest Tea bottle and inside the cap, there was this quote from Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” Well isn’t that thought-provoking?

I look back at the last five years since Hurricane Matthew, and I have been through radical change: from transforming my flooded home, surviving divorce, sobering up, and adopting a plant-based eating lifestyle. That is a lot of change. That is also a lot of responding to change. And I feel like the species of “Cathy” is on a completely different trajectory than I ever would have imagined three years ago.

Here are my takeaways on being responsive to change:

Appearances are deceiving.

I think of the fable of the frog being boiled alive because it didn’t detect the water temperature slowly changing. The water looked the same but the temperature was rising. It’s that way in relationships. The slow changes in a relationship can be imperceptible. The rules of the relationship have slowly morphed overtime and suddenly you don’t recognize yourself or your partner anymore. Right after the water receded from the flood, we stayed in the house for about three weeks. There was no HVAC, but because the weather was beautiful outside (low humidity and mid-70’s – beautiful for Eastern North Carolina), I had deceived myself into believing that we would not have to move out. The house looks fine, the relationship seems “normal”, and the water doesn’t seem that warm. Take a look below the surface and see what’s really going on. Things may have radically changed and you forgot to notice. Can you really live in a house without HVAC? Can you be in a relationship where you are no longer valued? Can you stay in the water when it’s starting to heat up? Don’t be deceived by appearances.

Patience is the key.

As Abigail Brenner wrote for Psychology Today, “Don’t be impulsive or try to rush the results. Patience will help you arrive at the best possible place you need to be.” There was the lost cabinet that was the linchpin to moving back into the house. It was at least a month to two months longer than expected. There were the slippery slopes of the mountains of bureaucracy associated with the insurance company, mortgage company, FEMA, and contractors. Patience, not my strong suit, was critical. It’s the same with the legal process of divorce. I wanted to just get it all wrapped up neatly in a package and move on. Nope. There is bureaucracy associated with that. I remember thinking over and over and over again, You can’t push a rope. This too shall pass. It’s difficult for someone as impulsive as myself, but the old Alcoholics Anonymous saying of “one day at a time” has incredible value. Relax when you are blindsided by change; lean into it.

Feel the feels.

Pain is difficult. It’s easy to take shortcuts to get around the pain. Eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, an Amazon Prime shopping binge or polishing off a bottle of Chardonnay. Numbing out of the experience. As the old Children’s song “Going on a Bear Hunt” says, “Can’t go over it, Can’t go under it, Can’t go around it, Got to go through it!” The way to go through is to feel the pain. Feel the feelings. Grief feels like this: tight stomach and clenched teeth. Anger feels like this: tight shoulders and fists. Then sit and feel the feels. Label it and feel it. Stuffing, numbing and ignoring aren’t helping you. It makes the change that much harder because you are trying to go around and not through. I know it can seem daunting. I remember thinking I would never get over the end of my marriage. I thought I would grieve every day. And I did for a while. But I think allowing grieving every day really helped me move on. Feel the pain of letting go of the past. Be with it.

One small step.

In my booklet 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits, I espouse the wisdom in making one or two small adjustments. I think we have all tried to take on the exercise regime, often over do it the first time out, and give up. Or we try the low carb diet and dump all the pasta, cookies and bread out of the pantry only to head to the drive thru the next day. Change is much more palatable with small steps. When I started to remove dairy from my diet, I started with breakfast. What could I eat for breakfast that didn’t have eggs or dairy? Oatmeal with blueberries. OK. One meal that is more plant based. Done. I still had cheese at lunch and dinner. I just removed it from breakfast. I avoid alcohol with one club soda and lime at a time. It’s just as easy to walk up to the bar at the reception and order a club soda with lime.

Give up on perfection with all this. Change isn’t easy. I facilitated a workshop this week and the food choices weren’t very plant based. I had some cheese. It’s OK. It’s good enough. It’s not all or nothing. There is 95%. It’s most important to focus on responding rather than reacting. Change will come. How will you respond?

👍 Making a Fresh Start

I read Daniel Pink’s book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, and it had lots of useful information about timing. Interestingly, a fresh start can occur more often than just on New Year’s Day. So, for all of you who missed setting or initiating your New Year’s Resolution, there is still hope. There is a whole, brand new fresh start. In fact, by Pink’s count, there are 86 days available for a fresh start. Well, that is, about 1 in 4 days, so that means you can get a fresh start right around the corner, if not today.

His theory is that there are eighty-six days that are especially effective for making a fresh start:

  • The first day of the month (twelve)
  • Mondays (fifty-two)
  • The first day of spring, summer, fall, and winter (four)
  • Your country’s Independence Day or the equivalent (one)
  • The day of an important religious holiday—for example, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Eid al-Fitr (one)
  • The first day of school or the first day of a semester (two)
  • The first day back from vacation (two)
  • The anniversary of your wedding, first date, or divorce (three)
  • The anniversary of the day you started your job, the day you became a citizen, the day you adopted your dog or cat, the day you graduated from school or university (four)
  • The day you finish this book (one)

It’s ironic, but some of my fresh starts were not on Mondays, not at the beginning of the month, and not around a holiday. The most significant for me was getting sober. It was a Saturday, four days after July 4th. But I made that fresh start stick. I can’t remember the day I gave up animal products, but I do remember the last time I had meat was at the DFW airport, and I didn’t end up finishing some sausage links on my breakfast plate. That was the last of my meat eating. It wasn’t a Monday or on an important anniversary.

The thing is that fresh starts can start right now. If you want to give up sugar, alcohol, chicken, or smoking, throw all that mess out right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here. It’s amazing how fast you can get rid of whatever is tempting you. I was kind of surprised how easy it can be if you can let go of the guilt tied to whatever is in the garbage can and the waste of money it has been. I’m pretty sure I threw out 7 bottles of wine when I embraced sobriety. I didn’t give it to a good home. I threw it in the garbage can. I can sort of visualize that I am not a garbage can. Why do I think that chocolate cake should go into my stomach instead of the garbage can? Yes, please donate what you want to give up if it’s feasible. If it’s not, then throw it out.

So, I decided to look up famous birthdays on July 8th: John D. Rockefeller and Kevin Bacon. Now I know that I got sober on their birthday. It’s not why I chose that date, but it’s auspicious none-the-less. It might work to go backwards to make your fresh start more memorable.

The key to it all is to get started. Pick what you want: whether it be exercising, napping (highly recommended by Pink), writing, playing the guitar, dancing, singing, walking the dog, or saving money. If you need more ideas, check out my 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits. What do you need a start?

😍 How to Have Wonder

This is a repost from 2017, enjoy!

I was on a plane to Miami a few weeks ago. It was my fifth flight inside of a week. I’m a jaded traveler. I don’t pay attention to the safety announcements, I always bring a bottle of water and go to the ladies room as soon as they start boarding. This kills time for the inevitable “those who need extra time to board the plane.” I am always habitual and with this trip I was hoping for no snags in my connections or weather in Atlanta. I almost always sit by the window but rarely look out. Until I saw this little boy looking out the window some three rows in front of me. He had wonder in his eyes. It caught my attention with a wisp of admiration. I want that. His mouth was open in awe. He couldn’t believe the magic of the clouds before him. He had wonder oozing from him.

The boy three rows up from me on my flight to Miami

I took his picture knowing that I wanted to write about it. And to look for ways to get wonder back in my life. It’s happenstance that the leaves in Eastern North Carolina are just starting to turn as we enter autumn. I was going to Miami to visit my son and to see him compete in a weightlifting competition. For most of the two-day trip, I had nothing to do. All I could do was sit, walk or look for wonder. The awe-inspiring moments of life are way top easily overlooked. So, I went about looking for them as a direct consequence of the boy on the plane.

Here is how to have wonder in your life:

  • Patience.  This has never been my strong suit and omnipresent technology distractions don’t help in the least. When we are constantly striving to move forward and pay attention to more than what’s in front of us, we miss the little things. I took note of this when I saw a family waiting for mom at the airport, with signs that read: “We ran out of diapers three days ago.” I forced myself to overcome the urge to text my son to say, “I’ll just take a taxi,” because I’m too impatient to wait. To force myself to be okay with the cable being out and not calling the company multiple times –  it won’t change a thing. And to wait for the orchid to bloom, instead of buying flowers at the store. Restraint exposes wonder.
  • Be open. I ended up spending the majority of Sunday at the coffee shop (White Rose Coffee) where my son works. He had the second season of Better Call Saul on the big screen television. I had no desire to start mid-season on a new television show. My son Benson pointed out that he had started watching Breaking Bad mid-season when I was home after surgery. So there I sat, watching some five episodes and watching with wonder as my son served guests. I even ate some vegan pirogi so I wouldn’t have to leave for lunch. If he missed a section, I would catch him up. Be open to the experience.
  • Venue. It never hurts to change your venue. Even if it’s a new coffee shop instead of your usual place. Walk your neighborhood in a different direction. Park in a different spot at work. I wrote about a side trip to Assateague Island when I was headed to a wedding in Delaware. Take time to go to a museum, garden or restaurant when you are in a new town, even if you’re on business. I have a friend who had been to Chicago several times on business and made it a point to consistently go a day early to see the sites of Chicago. What’s the point of traveling if you never stop and see the sights? Seek out new venues and sit back with wonder.
  • Child’s Lens. When I saw that little boy with his mouth agape as he looked out the window of the plane, I looked out the window with my mouth agape. I suddenly appreciated the fluffy white clouds below me. When I walked this morning, I saw a break in the clouds where the sun shined down as if being summoned by angels. Look at something like you are five-years-old and suddenly, this becomes your first plane ride, car ride, ferry ride, escalator ride, taxi ride, train ride, truck ride, roller coaster ride–any kind of ride. Put on your five-year-old glasses and wonder.
  • Focus. I am sitting here writing as I watch my dog stalk a squirrel outside. I’m trying to figure out what the squirrel is eating as my dog, Baci, is laser-focused on that squirrel. I realize now that Baci is in wonder (probably wondering how tasty that squirrel might be if she ever caught one…she never has). It wouldn’t matter if I put a steak on the floor or offered her a treat, she is mesmerized by that squirrel. I can remember seeing a Matisse at the National Gallery in D.C. If you stood really close, you could see the brush strokes, and you end up not focusing on the forest as a whole, but rather seeing the details in the trees. Wonder starts with focusing and being mesmerized by the detail.

Wonder is really just another word for curiosity. Curiosity is the cure for fear. It helps us open ourselves to a new experience, or reliving an old experience in a new way. What are you in wonder of?

😉 6 Reasons Why You Need a Coach

Bill Gates famously said “Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you are a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or bridge player.” There is a misperception that getting coached, whether it be for personal or business reasons, implies that you are defective or perhaps less than. I love the analogy a recent facilitator for my Advanced CliftonStrengths Coaching said: “You won’t go up to an NBA basketball star and tell them they don’t need a coach anymore.” So, if you have hit mastery, it’s OK to just coast on your laurels.

I have to say that as a coach, I am suspicious when another coach doesn’t have a coach. How can you coach if you don’t see the value for yourself? I see having a coach as sharpening my saw and realizing that I’m not finished. I have room to grow. Unfortunately, many organizations only use coaching to turn a bad egg around, which gives it a bad reputation. Coaching is embraced by many organizations as a perk and it enhances their workforce.

Here are the six reasons why you need a coach:

  1. Clarity: Perhaps it’s hyperconnectivity or maybe the clatter of conflicting and competing goals, but coaching has brought clarity to my life. I can get wrapped up in the immediacy of getting laundry done, packing for a trip and making sure bills are paid instead of being clear about the path I am headed down. I find this to be especially beneficial when there is more than one apparent goal. I have been coached about the priorities in my life dozens of time and it’s not until the distractions are temporarily put to rest during coaching that I realize that supporting my loved ones is the most important goal for the next few months. Coaching has helped clear the fog and provided clarity.
  1. Blind spots: There are many things that I take for granted or have made assumptions about for years; some, even decades. Coaches help you seen the unseen. They uncover the pattern that is not apparent. I just worked with a CEO the other day who realized that he had no problem paying compliments to his child but was hypercritical with his direct reports. This was a blind spot. He realized that if he could focus the same openness and benevolence with his direct reports, he would be more approachable and a better leader. Coaches help shine a light on the blind spots.
  1. Perspective: Coaches don’t have a dog in the fight. They are outside the situation. They aren’t your direct report, your boss or your partner. There are very few people in your life that have this perspective. This makes them much more unbiased and open to possibility. My child, my parent or my boss might try and limit my choices and add to my limiting beliefs, but a coach can set up a safe space where anything is possible. They can also suggest resources that might be helpful. I remember when my marriage suddenly and unexpectedly dissolved, my coach, Tammi, suggested a book by William Bridges called Transitions. It was invaluable to help me make sense of being in the neutral zone for many months. The neutral zone is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one. I don’t think I would have found it on my own. Coaching provides a different, neutral perspective.
  1. Accountability: When I coach, I ask my client if they want any accountability around the actions they have come up with. The important thing to remember is that coaches don’t decide on action items, the client does. So, if my client decides they are going to go to one networking event per week, month or year, that was their decision. When you come up with your own action items, you are much more motivated to see it through. You own it. If you want accountability or not, you are the best to decide. Some clients (like those who are naturally responsible) don’t need any accountability. But as a client said this week, “Oh yeah. I’ll forget and won’t make this happen unless you follow up with me.” So as a client you may or may not need the accountability. A coach is there to help with accountability.
  1. Powerful questions: Coaches employ powerful questions to help tease out insight. As my Neuroleadership Coach Training taught me, new connections between neuropathways are made with powerful questions. This is virtually impossible on your own. The other thing is that powerful questions have a positive forward-looking perspective. Sample questions are: “What is possible? What if it worked out exactly as you wanted it? What does success look like? What do you want?” In a safe space, these questions open up and create new thought pathways. Coaching is about powerful questions.
  1. Happier: I have found that most of my clients are happier. I have found myself to be happier once I started being coached. I feel more balanced and less frazzled. I have changed other things in the same timeframe, including being sober and a long-standing meditation practice, but I believe that checking in with Tammi once a month has brought about a new balance and perspective. She has been with me on my journey for over five years and has seen the highs and lows. I appreciate the space she creates for me to do my best work and reflect. As William Arruda wrote for Forbes, “Because coaches help you identify and align your values, create a focus, cut through clutter, and clear tolerations, they help you increase your professional fulfillment.” Coaching makes you happier.

It’s important to know that coaching is not mentorship, consulting or therapy. I know that many clients say it “feels” like therapy, but therapy has a backwards view and coaching has a future, positive view. It feels like therapy because there is someone who is deeply connected and listening to you. It’s the gift of truly being heard. Have you thought about having a coach?

🚴🏼‍♀️ 5 Tips on Learning to Coast

I recently read Oliver Burkeman’s “4000 Weeks”. It’s a humbling book.  Perhaps a hamster wheel stopper. The title derives itself from the number of weeks the average person has in their life (if you live to 76).  Gulp. At sixty years old, I’ve got less than 1000 weeks left. It’s made me take stock.  It shines a light on all the striving I’ve done in my life, the next raise, project, bonus check, prom, graduation, wedding, house, promotion, boyfriend, training, client.  It’s an endless path full of hurdles that I keep trying to get past; and the more “efficient” I get at it, the more projects, tasks and duties seem to come down the pike. I so rarely, if ever, just coast.

I remember biking the Virginia Creeper Trail a few years ago.  Most of the riding of the seventeen plus mile trail, is just coasting.  It’s wonderful gliding through the autumnal trees with a meandering river below or beside. It’s mostly effortless and I was able to get back into the moment of the sheer joy of gliding through the air.  That’s the feeling I want for my last 1000 weeks.  Coasting.

Here are some tips on learning to coast:

  • Find the awe. I try and snapshot moments in my life. Singing hallelujah at the vespers concert in Duke Chapel, a single dancer pantomiming a scream and some 30 dancers falling down like dominos in unison at a Spring Dance recital at the School of the Arts. Or the sweet smell of honeysuckle on a sunrise walk with my dog, the mainsail filling and the sailboat starting to heel on Jordan Lake with a bluebird sky, 83 year old Lena Mae Perry’s electrifying voice singing, “Oh Lord, come by me” at a mesmerizing Stay Prayed Up performance, and the grimace, shiver and might of my son lifting a personal best 176 kg over his head at the Queen City Classic. As Burkeman wrote, “The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.” I’m trying to pay attention to the awe and wonder.

  • Be curious. Curiosity is the antidote to fear. Being curious and fearful turn on the same reactions in the body, it’s just that reframing it as curiosity helps your mind repackage it.  So instead of your prefrontal cortex shutting down to run for it, it opens your mind to take in the experience.  It’s like reading a signal from your body in a different manner, a different language. As Burkeman espoused, “choosing curiosity (wondering what might happen next) over worry (hoping that a certain specific thing will happen next, and fearing it might not) whenever you can.” I’m trying to stay curious.

  • Let time use you. This is complete blasphemy to my uber scheduled life of routines, appointments and structure. On the surface, it feels like letting go of the wheel while driving down interstate 40 at 70 miles per hour. As written by Burkeman, “There is an alternative: the unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history.” It’s a matter of response and flexibility.  Let things unfold and find the gift in the unfolding. The traffic jam, being put on hold, the long line at check-out, here is an opportunity to let time use you.

  • Find what counts. “Follow your gift, not your passion” wrote Steve Harvey. This reframe has been very beneficial to me.  I spent a lot of time trying to find “my passion”.  Knowing my gifts is so much more obvious.  I write well, I’m a phenomenal coach, I’m a good mom and I’m a great cook.  There.  Now all I have to do is use my gifts.  There lies my passion. As Burkeman wrote, “Once you no longer need to convince yourself that the world isn’t filled with uncertainty and tragedy, you’re free to focus on doing what you can to help. And once you no longer need to convince yourself that you’ll do everything that needs doing, you’re free to focus on doing a few things that count.” I need to use my gifts to do what counts.

  • Do less. I coach so many women who work more and more and more hours each week. Some work until midnight, eat lunch at their desk, or work all Sunday evening to “get ahead”. Only to be rewarded with more to do because, well, they are good at doing so much. As Burkeman posits, “Limit your work in progress. Perhaps the most appealing way to resist the truth about your finite time is to initiate a large number of projects at once; that way, you get to feel as though you’re keeping plenty of irons in the fire and making progress on all fronts. Instead, what usually ends up happening is that you make progress on no fronts—because each time a project starts to feel difficult, or frightening, or boring, you can bounce off to a different one instead. You get to preserve your sense of being in control of things, but at the cost of never finishing anything important.” Perhaps this is the most difficult thing to tackle. To limit what you are working on so that you actually accomplish something. The curse of multitasking is that you really are just task switching and losing ground each time you switch tasks. Embrace doing less.

I’m a recovering efficiency-aholic. I walk into a grocery store and I’ve already mentally mapped which aisles I’m going down and in what order to maximize my time. The concepts in this book are sobering yet in a sense, it’s all about just being in the moment.  As much as possible to be here right now, balance yourself on your bike, lift your feet up and coast.

😎It’s Not My Only Line in the Play

I heard this quote at a conference in October. It really put things into perspective. We have a lot more shots at a goal than we imagine. I think back to grade school theatrical productions and not wanting to flub the one line I was given. But in reality, we have a ton of lines. For that matter, a ton of plays in life. I can get wrapped up in perfection in the job interview, or the presentation to the board, or the first date. It’s freeing to realize there are a lot of opportunities in life and it’s grand to not get wrapped up in the perfection of your next line in the play.

A recent facilitation for Daniels and Daniels Construction

I can relive conflicts in my life where I have an epiphany about what I should have said. The perfect comeback. The perfect redress. The perfect reparation. Finally putting someone in their place, and yet, the opportunity is long past. I can live in a loop in my head about how I should have played the situation differently. It takes energy. It zaps me. It’s completely unproductive. It was only one line.

So here are some ideas on how to move on to the next line in the play:

Piece it out

I facilitate a bunch of different trainings. They can range from Ethics, Sexual Harassment, or Human Resource Certification. Sometimes I present about CRR Global’ s “Lands Work”, Gallup’s Strengthsfinder, or Leadership Retreats. The thing is, when I first started facilitating, I would get completely caught up in the three upcoming events I had scheduled. I’d be worried about the one in three weeks when I was prepping for the one tomorrow. I would be overwhelmed and not sleep well. The secret is to focus on the next project. The next training. The next coaching client. By piecing it out to one project or event or client at a time, I can focus, be calm and better prepared. Focus on the next line in the play.

It’s about them

Delivering a line or a song or a presentation is all about the audience. Moving off of my own ego and onto the group in front of me is lifting an enormous burden off my shoulders. It’s not worrying about if I look fat in this outfit or if I can get a laugh out of the room. It’s delivering one piece that helps someone in their day. When you focus on them, it becomes a service. It makes it easier. I know that can seem like a lot of pressure but if I go into a room of two hundred people wanting to impress them all, it’s overwhelming and sure to fail. If I go into that same room with the intention to impact just one person’s life, it’s much easier. If it helps more than one person, terrific. If everyone gets it and loves the presentation? Even better. But the goal remains all about them.

$hitty first draft

Practically everything I facilitate, coach, or write is a first draft. I try not to overthink things. Granted, I have an editor for my blog, but the rest of what I deliver is on the fly. It’s in the moment. I’ve said some dumb things; I’ve said some witty things; I’ve said things I want to completely forget about (and usually don’t). Aren’t most conversations in life just $hitty first drafts anyway? Let go of perfection and be in the moment. If you mess up this line, there is another line coming up.

Be present in the moment

I’ve spent a lot of time rushing ahead. Planning. Mapping things out. I can be exhausting to be around. I can also spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The Monday morning quarterbacking type stuff that is just as debilitating. The important thing is this moment right now. I facilitated a new group a few weeks back. I had never worked for this organization before. There were a bunch of unknowns: the audio visual; wall space for flip-charts; seating arrangements for the table. That’s all just flotsam. The real object is being present for the people in that room. It’s being present to tease out the wisdom in the room. It’s letting other folks shine their light for everyone else to benefit. If I’m more worried about the perfect room set up and refreshments, I’m not present for those in the room. So maybe you have to adjust the line in the play to fit the group in the room. Be present so you know it.

Be silent

It’s OK to be quiet. Not everything has to be filled with words. Time for folks to reflect is super important. Time for you to reflect is important as well. I think back to my first date with my ex. There was plenty of silence. I was OK with not filling every moment with language. I remember becoming certified to deliver a Myer’s Briggs facilitation. The instructor told us to wait 20 seconds after asking the group a question. Count out twenty seconds in your head.  Go ahead.                It’s an eternity, right? It’s an adjustment to be OK with silence. You don’t need to have language filling the air at all times. Give everyone time and space to reflect and digest. Some of the most profound moments in a play are when it is silent. Think back to all the pregnant pauses in a Hitchcock film. Rear Window would not be as griping without the silence. Silence can be powerful.

At the heart of all of this is just being authentic and present for as much as you can. Give up the need to know how it’s all going to end up. Every play is going to be different. Every line you deliver will have a different impact. What’s your next line in the play?

👍🏻Ask for Help

My closest friends from high school and college all had babies in 1993. Five babies born all in one year. My good friend, Janine, was the first that year to give birth to her son in March. I followed closely behind in April.  I remember talking to her on the phone after her some 48 hours in labor in the back hills of Vermont. I recall she said, “There is no gold star or medal if you don’t have drugs.” Interesting. If you take the shortcut, the easier way; the fast pass, you still arrive at the same place. No one remembers that you did or did not have an Epidural. All they remember is that you had a beautiful, healthy baby. All five of us did by the end of 1993. There was no one keeping score on who did or did not try and escape some pain. Point being, no one remembers if you asked for help or not.

Salt Pans of Mara, Peru

Fast forward to a few years ago. I am hiking in the Andes. I am navigating down the Salt Pans of Mara, Peru. The Salt Pans are man-made shallow evaporation pools for the harvesting of salt. They have been using these “pans” to harvest salt since the Incas. I have wobbly knees, the sun is slowly setting and my guide Danny has shown me the way forward. The way forward is what I feel looks like a balance beam across the edge of hundreds of salt pans. It’s about a four to five-foot drop off the edge I hesitate. Danny looks at me, “Do you need help?” I am embarrassed. I am the only one teetering on whether or not to proceed (although I have absolutely no choice since the bus has left). The rest of my group is ahead. Danny offers for me to hold onto his shoulders as we march across what was probably in reality a foot to 18-inch-wide path. I accepted his help.

Here is what I learned about asking for help:

Pride. I remember that there was a show many years ago called Weakest Link. The announcer would say to someone that was being eliminated, “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” When Danny offered his help, I felt like everyone on that trip was looking down at their score card to check off [Cathy needed help. She is the weakest link.] That was my pride creeping in. Blasting in, actually. Pride is a dangerous occupation. You can put yourself in a lot of danger. You can worry more about what people think instead of plain old self-preservation. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your safety…and sanity. Ask for help.

One step.  It is immensely cliché to say: “One foot in front of the other.” It is completely true. As I held onto Danny walking across that imagined “balance beam” on the salt pans, I really did just put one foot in front of the other. My head was down. I couldn’t see the finish line. I didn’t want to see the finish line. I focused on my feet. It’s amazing how an enormous project like my dear friend Susannah has been going through for the past several months of moving to another country; can become manageable by doing one step at a time. Otherwise, it’s overwhelming. It hijacks our brain into believing we must get it all done today. It won’t. It can’t. Take a breath. Take one small step. Worry about the next step when you need to. Get the help and take a step.

Adapt. On another leg of this trip, we ended up hiking down about 2,000 feet in altitude on the Inca Trail in a ruin called Pisac. There was rarely, if ever, a hand rail. The size, shape and width of the steps varied with each and every step. My foot would end up dropping from 18 inches to 2 inches. From gravel to stone to dirt. Hairpin switchbacks that llama’s apparently glide up and down. We had no idea what was next. There was no anticipating what the next ten feet might bring. Sometimes our trusty assistant (read Lifesaver) guide Juan Carlos anticipated my need for some balance and arrived at the ready as we descended yet another uneven set of steps. Sometimes he wasn’t. I muddled through. I adapted. There is no perfection in hiking. There is only a safe arrival at the bottom. Get help and adapt.

AcceptanceMy hiking mentor and Appalachian Trail hiker, Roy, instructed me to do whatever I need in order to be safe on the trail. Even crawling. Well that doesn’t sound very graceful. I needed to accept that if I wanted to get on my butt and scoot down the mountain, that was just fine. If I wanted to accept help from my guides, that is also just fine. There are no gold stars at the bottom (or top) if you use or ask or accept help. When I arrived at my bucket list destination of Machu Picchu and needed to lean on Juan Carlos down a set of uneven steps, I finally accepted it. There is no one keeping score except for myself. Get the help and, most importantly, be accepting.

This might be an American construct where we all need to be like Teddy Roosevelt and be the rugged individual. The person who can conquer it all. I can’t. I admit it. It’s freeing to actually look for help instead of being what my brother calls “a juggernaut of strength.” Be human and accept the help. It will make all the difference.

😁 6 Tips to Conquering Email

Since leaving my full-time job over a year ago, my use of email has dropped significantly.  As a professional coach, I think it is the biggest pain most of my clients are grappling with along with Slack or Team messaging. I recently read, A World without Email by Cal Newport and it’s a sobering eye-opening read.  As Newport wrote, “The modern knowledge worker is almost never more than a few minutes away from sending or receiving some sort of electronic communication. To say we check email too often is an understatement; the reality is that we’re using these tools constantly.” I find this was especially true in support roles like finance, human resources and IT.  To be responsive, we feel like we always have to be “on” and “on” is checking and responding to emails.

The amount of time spent on emails is staggering considering we didn’t even have this technology forty years ago.  As Abigail Hess wrote for Make It, “During the workday, respondents reported spending an average of 209 minutes checking their work email and 143 minutes checking their personal email, for a total of 352 minutes (about five hours and 52 minutes) each day.”  This was written in 2019, before the pandemic, when theoretically we might run into someone at the water cooler and be able to accomplish communication in a more satisfying, higher quality manner.  Way too much of our attention is captured by our inboxes.  

My 6 tips for conquering email:

Notifications.  Turn off any and all notifications.  When we hear a ping or see a visual notification that we have an email, our brain wants to go check.  After all, you may have hit the lottery or received some other windfall.  The likelihood of this is like .0001% but our brains want that hit of dopamine to see if maybe, just maybe there is an extra million or so dollars on the way.  I think of it as running out to your physical mailbox every 2 minutes.  I had to look on YouTube to figure out how to turn off notifications but it makes for an easier time to do deep high quality work.  Turn off notifications.

Phone or video chat.  Many of us are in a situation where we are not collocated with coworkers any more.  Email is devoid of all voice inflection and body language.  It is a poor and inefficient substitute for a conversation. If in-person communication isn’t possible, use the phone or video chat.  As Newport wrote, “Prioritization of abstract written communication over in-person communication disregarded the immensely complex and finely tuned social circuits that our species evolved to optimize our ability to work cooperatively. By embracing email, we inadvertently crippled the systems that make us so good at working together.” We are wired to talk and connect with others both visually and vocally.  Prioritize voice and visual connection.

Keep emails short.  I read recently that we should keep them to five sentences or less. I cannot tell you how many times my eyes would roll when I saw a multi-paragraph email and I would put off reading it for hours and sometimes days.  If it’s reference information, make it an attachment.  As Newport espoused, “Always keeping emails short is a simple rule, but the effects can be profound. Once you no longer think of email as a general-purpose tool for talking about anything at any time, its stranglehold on your attention will diminish.” Keep emails brief and to the point.

Subject lines.  Utilize subject lines so that at a glance, the receiver knows what it’s about and what, if any action, they need to take.  As Peter Diamandis wrote, “The subject needs to be unique and compelling—just like a headline on a news article, the subject should capture my attention, pique my interest, and make me want to open your email. The subject line should be meaningful: I should know what you want, based on the subject.” It might be:  Launch date for Widget Project – please confirm by this afternoon.  I remember sending emails to a coworker for proofing and putting the topic for the email and “please proof” at the end of the subject line.  Be discerning with your subject line.

Block time and set expectations. There are two ways to eliminate five plus hours on emailing.  One is to set times that you read and respond to emails like at 8 AM, 11 AM and 4 PM or setting up blocks for deep work like 10 to 11:30 and 2 to 3:30.  Either way, I’d suggest when you start this, please let those you work closely with know that you plan on spending chunks of the day not responding to email.  Have them pick up the phone if it’s urgent.  For time blocks to work, set expectations with those around you.

Don’t be a part of the problem.  Send less emails.  It’s wired into us that we must be cordial and respond quickly.  This goes back to being a part of a group of hunter gatherers.  Those that got along with the group were not shunned from the group.  We want to belong so we answer quickly.  We are wired to be responsive so that we can be connected to the group.  But email is not a conversation.  Try to connect in person, virtually or by phone.  Limit the emails you send out.

Newport refers to the state of our brains as the hyperactive hive mind.  We end up in a constant state of task and context switching which is stressful and not very gratifying.  Time to think and do deep quality work is what most of us are missing. Email is one of the causes of our distracted minds.  How do you conquer emails?

😳My Father’s Experience in Korea in 1947

My late father went in the Army on February 20, 1946 at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and then onto basic training at Camp Crower in Missouri. World War II had ended with the Japanese surrendering on September 2, 1945 and the Korean War didn’t start until June 25, 1950. This means that when my father ended up in Korea in 1947, he was there during a tumultuous time. The Japanese were gone, and the United States military were there as military oversight. My father at the age of 22 was in a foreign land, that spoke a foreign language during uncertain times.

Korean man
Photos from my father’s army service in Korea 1947

In 1947, my father was about halfway through his bachelor’s degree. He had two semesters at Colby College and one summer semester at the University of Minnesota.

From my father’s personal history:

I volunteered for duty overseas. Signing up in the regular army to be sure I got out in 18 months, I awaited assignment to culture laden Europe where most GI’s went. What a shock when I was shipped to Fort Stoneman in California on the Sacramento River, near San Francisco. I was shipped out as a radio repairman to Korea – I didn’t even get stationed in Japan!

So, there was my father on his way across the Pacific on a life defining journey:


From my father’s personal history:

With hundreds of men confined to foc’siles in bunks stacked 5 high, the trip across the Pacific became a nightmare when a 3-day storm made most troops seasick. Not allowed on deck for air, the mess halls had no one to man them, latrines were stopped up by vomit and the stench become overwhelming as men threw up and relieved themselves in their bunks. I was OK till someone 4 bunks above vomited on me—then I heaved too. During all this, officers kicked us out of their way to get by and I learned to hate arbitrary authority—military law could put us behind bars if we hit back.

This scene is horrendous. The disarray. The lack of humanity. The impact on my father was a life led with levelheaded fairness. In the multitude of comments from his past students from his 30 plus years of teaching history was that he was fair. Grades were earned. Rules around discipline were clear on the first day of his class. He was never one to abuse authority and he used it judiciously.

Korea in town.JPG


As my father wrote:

We rode a train down the Peninsula to Ch’ongju, a mountainous area between Seoul and Pusan. We broke up wooden seats and started fires in the passageway – to prevent frostbite from bitter winds whistling through broken out windows. Seeing young Korean boys with a single shirt, shorts and rubber shoes without socks staring at us from railroad stops along the way, left me incredulous. I, near a fire, with heavy army boots, two sets of socks, a hat and helmet liner, was damn near freezing to death, so how in hell could those kids survive?!? I hoped we’d never have to fight such people. Though we had better weapons it was clear their survivability and toughness were far superior to ours.

When my father ever spoke about his life challenges, he never brought this experience up. When he spoke of life not being fair, his experience in Korea did come up. He never forgot the cold and those kids. Even though his experience was one small step above those kids, his respect for them was immense.


My father wrote:

One day, befriending our houseboy with a pack of matches, he took me far back into the mountains to visit his grandfather’s village. Kids and most adults had never seen an American before. Sitting in his grandfather’s hut amidst male villagers, I saw women peeking from another room for their first wide-eyed stare at a real man from the West. Politely declining pipes of opium, I passed around chicklets and showed photos of my family in response – pointed to a worn newspaper blowup of N.Y.C. skyscrapers on their wall and telling them through my houseboy interpreter I had lived near there. They laughed, shaking their heads, insisting it was just artistic imagination and that there was no such city like that.

My father was not a news reporter, he wasn’t working on behalf of the army, he did this all on his own. He ventured out to find out what was out “there”. I find this to be amazing. For the price of a pack of matches, he sought out a new perspective. In the many condolences I received from his past students, the over arching theme is that he made history come alive. He marched around classrooms with a pointer as a rifle and made the students feel like they were there. This curiosity. This wanderlust. I don’t believe it started in Korea but it certainly opened the door.

Korea street with ladies.JPG


My father always famously said that he went to Korea a liberal and came back a conservative. As he wrote:

My 7 months’ allowed me to contrast our America with poorer lands in a way unobtainable from books, converting me from a liberal critic of our way of life to a defender of American society thereafter. The poverty imposed upon Koreans by 50 years of Japanese conquest was grim. Men and women squatted and defecated anywhere outdoors even in the river they got their cooking and drinking water from. A pungent stench of human excrement overpowered us wherever we went, reminding GI’s of missing sanitation, a lack of paved roads, bridges, safe drinking water, electricity and unheated houses in sub-zero weather. I pondered how Koreans could be happy in a land stripped of forests for fuel, widespread malnutrition, open body sores, universal disease and general mistreatment by local police and authorities.

It also shifted his trajectory of his career and future studies. He sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge with the Army and decided to finish his interrupted Sophomore year at Berkeley. He studied Intro to Government, Foreign Policies and U. S. History (he proudly received two B’s and an A). This lit the fuse to his 34-year career teaching and demonstrating history.

Korean Woman

This piece was prompted by finding the pictures attached from my father’s photos.  I am fortunate that he left behind his legacy in written and photographic form. But isn’t that his way. The great historian leaving his thoughts and personal evidence for me to have a better understanding of this great pivot point of his life. I asked him in his last few months if he had any regrets. The only one was not getting a PhD. The rest is all a life full of adventure, stories told and sharing his experiences. His students and his children are the fortunate and enriched receivers. We got to live it with him.

👌Got Plan B?

“The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.” -James A. Yorke

You are frustrated because they cancelled the show you bought the tickets for six months ago.  You don’t get the promotion you’ve been dreaming of since you came to this company.  The proposal you sent to your ideal client which is going to double your income this year, is turned down.  Is the universe ganging up on you?  Nope.  You just need a Plan B.

I a few years ago I traveled to New England on business and pleasure.  I ended up with several Plan B moments.  I was staying on the 17th floor of the Hartford Hilton.  The fire alarm went off at midnight.  Sleep was Plan A.  Descending 17 flights of stairs on foot was Plan B. I was staying at my friend’s beautiful country home (in the middle of nowhere in the Berkshires) and planned on writing while there.  There was a thunderstorm that plowed in overnight. Phone and wifi were dead.  Plan A was writing.  Plan B was having a lovely day long conversation with my friend.  I missed a connecting flight at Washington Reagan airport.  Making the connection was Plan A.  Walking 10,000 steps in Terminal C was Plan B.  The important thing was being open to Plan B.

This is how I remained open to Plan B:

  • Keep the goal in mind.  I’ve retold the story of taking 17 flights of stairs and more than one person told me, I think I would have just stayed in the hotel room.  Truth is I didn’t smell smoke but in a 22-story hotel, how could I possible know what was above me.  The goal was avoiding participating in a fire and if trudging 17 flights kept me safe, then that’s the goal.  Getting home safely was the goal when I missed the connection in DC.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration of a change of plans but if you focus on the end goal it calms the anxiety.
  • Know where your essentials are.  When a fire alarm goes off and there is an annoying strobe light to accompany it, it’s disorienting.  I tried to turn the light on next to my bed.  It didn’t go on.  I thought the electricity was out.  Fortunately, when I fumbled over to the desk lamp it worked. But I had no idea where my sneakers and glasses were.  Having shoes and glasses were essential.  During the thunderstorm two nights later and the lights flickered, I made sure I had my glasses and shoes next to my bed.  Socks?  Laptop? Nope. Not essential. So in a work situation if you end up not having an LCD projector, use a flip chart.  If you don’t have a flip chart, have someone take notes on paper.  Figure out what’s essential.
  • Label the feeling.  I was sitting in the last row of the plane when we finally pulled close to the gate and making my connecting flight was very present in my mind.  I had a ton of anxiety and, frankly, I was angry that we were sitting 10 feet from the gate but were not actually “at” the gate with the door open.  I consciously sat in my seat and thought, this is what anger feels like.  My forehead is hot and my stomach is clenched.  OK.  And this is what anxiety feels like.  My stomach is flipping and my throat is tight.  OK.  I sat there inventory-ing my feelings as they arose and labeling them.  I was able to witness the feelings instead of getting sucked into them. Labeling the feeling keeps you from stuffing it away as well.  Let it rise and vanish as you consider each one.  If you take anything from this post, work on labeling your feelings; it will keep you from getting sucked into them.
  • A plausible alternative.  When someone cuts me off in traffic, I try and imagine that they are headed to the hospital on an emergency.  When I was sitting in the back row of the plane, I decided it must be some safety issue and the plane couldn’t pull up to the door.  When the client I sent a proposal to doesn’t respond,  I imagine my offer ended up in their spam folder.  Better reach out by phone.  A coach friend of mine, Michele Woodward, recommends that you reach out to a potential client three times.  That’s a great rule of thumb.  With smart phones and bulging email inboxes, the world is a giant distraction.  It takes patience and persistence to get through the clutter.  Assume that they want to get back to you, they are just overwhelmed.  There is always a plausible alternative or explanation.
  • What opportunity is available.  When I realized I missed my connection and had four hours to kill, I decided that I could listen to my book on Audible and walk 10,000 steps.  I’m not sure there weren’t a few folks who saw me walking by them 15 times who didn’t think I might be lost or a lunatic but here was an opportunity to get a few hours of my book done and get in 10,000 steps.  The opportunity in Hartford was seeing some thirty Hartford firefighters.  These guys were there to potentially save my life.  What bravery.  They do this every day.  Run in while we run out.  I don’t have the opportunity to see that every day.  The opportunity in the Berkshires without wifi?  Isn’t it obvious.  20 hours without social media and email and phone.  Priceless.  All I need is a good friend and a dog and the opportunities are endless.

I’ve always had my father as an example of patience.  I have always admired his unflappability.  Whether it was a flat tire or a teenager changing their mind with Friday night plans, “Daddy, can you drive me and my friends to bowling instead of playing Monopoly at home?”  I try and tap into his patience when I face my Plan B. Tools help.